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France & Norway 1940

As soon as war was declared on 3 September 1939, the British Army sent an expeditionary force to France in order to defend France against German invasion. Initially, the War Office planned for the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.) to consist of two corps, each comprising two Regular Army infantry divisions. By May 1940, the B.E.F. had grown to be equivalent to an Army Group in terms of its command structure, as it was intended to reached the size of two Armies, each comprising two Corps, albeit the Germans invaded before that scale was reached.

The first formations arrived in France in September 1939, and the strength of the B.E.F. increased steadily throughout the period known as the ‘Phoney War’. The German’s launched their invasion on 10 May 1940, and quickly swept aside the French Army. The coast was reached at Abbeville on 20 May 1940. The British and French garrisons at Boulogne and Calais fell on 25 May and 27 May respectively. The Royal Navy started evacuating the B.E.F. on 27 May 1940, successfully rescuing the majority of the B.E.F. before Dunkirk fell on 4 June 1940.

Dunkirk was not the end of British involvement in the battle for France. The 51 Infantry Division was serving with the French 3 Army on the Maginot Line. It fell back to the coast at St. Valery, where the bulk of the division was captured on 12 June 1940. The 1 Armoured Division, 52 Infantry Division and 1 Canadian Infantry Division served in France until the middle of June.

The campaign in Norway was a spontaneous reaction to the threat to this independent country by Germany in connection with the supply of iron ore to the German war economy. German naval and ground forces began invading both Norway and Denmark on 9 April 1940. Denmark quickly capitulated, but Norway resisted. British forces were sent to Andalsnes (Sickle Force) on 18 April to 1 May 1940, Namsos (Maurice Force) on 16 April to 3 May 1940, and Narvik (Scissors Force and Avon Force) from 15 April to 8 June 1940.

Further information on each of the units and formations can be found in the sections as below:

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